Adventures / culture / Out and About / Things to do

An American In Paris: The Last Week in the Eternal City

This is the fifth in a weekly series that will extend until the end of June. It will chronicle my travels in Europe and the interesting things I come upon or wish someone had told me before I left. This is the last article focusing on Paris, next week will begin a five week installment on my discoveries in London.

My stay in Paris has come to a close and after reflecting on my time here, I have come up with a short list of things I’ve discovered during my stay.

1] SIM cards– If you have a phone that has a SIM card, you can get service in France without outrageous roaming charges. Just remove the card and go to a local provider [Orange, SFR, etc]. They will sell you a pay-as-you-go number and card. Some airports have machines that dispense them as well. Even IPhones can do this. Your provider will probably tell you it can’t be done, but any IPhone from the 4 or later has a slot on the side that contain the SIM card. Just take a paperclip to it and the card will pop right out. Voila! You’re free to use a local provider. Just be sure you don’t lose your old card.

Also, if you want to do international calling or texting and your plan won’t allow for it but you have data or Wi-Fi, you can get the Skype app on your phone and have people call you through that. It can be spotty depending on the Internet connection and whether you’re moving or not, but it’s free.

2] French Customer Service– I didn’t believe it at first but, after being glared at day after day by my local bakery lady and other store clerks as I stumbled through ordering or fishing out my coin purse, it became clear that the stereotypes about snooty French people had truth to it. That isn’t to say all French people are rude, there were plenty of nice people in Paris. However, don’t expect the same attentive polite service you would get in the States, especially if you don’t speak perfect French. In part, this is because they make a living wage thus, don’t have to work for tips. Also the ‘customer is always right’ mentality isn’t there. The French also don’t smile as much as Americans do, but I have been told that saying ‘Bonjour’ or ‘Bonsoir’ is equivalent in their culture. Just try to be polite and efficient, hopefully they will return the favor.

3] The Metro– The Metro is great. It’s little smelly at times, but efficient and decently priced. One ticket will get you wherever you’re going, no matter how far as long as you stay in the Metro system. If you’re staying for a week or a month, I would suggest getting a Navigo Pass instead of using the single use tickets. I got the monthly pass for zones 1 and 2 [you have to register for two zones, 1 and 2 cover most of the main part of the city] and it was very useful. I never had to worry about public transit because it gave me unlimited access to both buses and Metro trains. On weekends all the zones open up and I could take the RER trains for free as well. It also occasionally gave me discounts. The pass cost 67 euros [about 90 bucks] and was quite worth it. Plus, keeping track of those single ride tickets can get really annoying.

4] Variety of style: Most Parisians dress very similarly and very nicely. It’s almost as if they have a uniform. While I was there, nearly everyone had a dark overcoat or leather jacket and a scarf. Scarves are a big thing there. Every clothing store I went into, even the punk ones, sold scarves. They even sell cheap ones on street corners.

When people did dress differently, they were either tourists or rebelling in a big way, going super grungy or artsy in defiant contrast with the somewhat dressy image that everyone else projected.

5] Diversity: Paris may be a global city, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s happy about it. They have the same immigration controversies that the US does except it’s with Algerian and other North Africans from countries they used to colonize. This is compounded with Islamaphobia spread by the rather racist far right party, Front Nationale, who want to ‘reclaim’ France for the ‘French’ [meaning the white people]. Thankfully, they are still pretty marginalized. However, if you don’t look like you could pass as European, you could face some discrimination. Nothing serious, mostly heckling from idiots on the street or closer attention from the police, but it can be annoying. Just be sure you keep some sort of picture identification on you [ie. a copy of your passport], so you can prove your identity and your status as a tourist not an illegal immigrant, if the police ask.

The eternal city is a beautiful, and full of all kinds of art and music. However, it does have its issues, as does any city. Despite these, I would recommend visiting if you get a chance. While I don’t plan on moving in any time, my stay was an enriching experience and I am very happy I went.

That does it for Paris, for the moment. I’m off to United Kingdom now, and will be writing from London for the next five weeks.

Until next week, Aurevoir!

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